United 0, Fire 0

Early in the week, Freddy Adu disrupted D.C. United's playoff preparations by complaining about his amount of playing time. Friday night, prior to the club's first-round opener against the Chicago Fire, Coach Peter Nowak decided just how many minutes the 16-year-old forward would play: zero.

Adu was suspended by the team before United's 0-0 tie and watched the match from a private booth at Soldier Field. Club officials declined to elaborate, but several sources said it was related to Adu's remarks Tuesday and the subsequent fallout. [See story, E7]

"It's very clear and the case is closed for me," Nowak said. "It was a difficult decision, but we look forward to next weekend."

It remains unclear whether Adu will play in the finale of the home-and-home series, Oct. 30 at RFK Stadium. Adu said through a team spokesman that he did not want to comment.

Whether or not Adu is in uniform, United will be in prime position to advance to the Eastern Conference final after enduring a sluggish performance and escaping with a coveted tie on the road. If the teams play another draw in Washington, the series will be decided by a 30-minute overtime and, if necessary, a penalty kick tiebreaker.

United was MLS's highest-scoring team during the regular season, but on a chilly evening before 11,493 fans, D.C. managed just four shots, none on goal. Its only realistic hope to score came in the 72nd minute when the Fire's Jim Curtin slid into Jaime Moreno deep in the 18-yard box. United pleaded for a penalty kick, but only received a corner kick.

Chicago wasn't much better, but did create three serious opportunities -- a shot cleared off the goal line by United's Brian Carroll, Chris Rolfe's blast that was blocked by goalkeeper Nick Rimando and a 90th-minute corner kick that appeared to give the Fire the lead. However, referee Brian Hall disallowed Chad Barrett's shot.

"I'm still a little puzzled by the end there," Fire Coach Dave Sarachan said. Hall "just said there were four or five guys pushing."

Besides Adu, one of the club's most dangerous attacking players, United was also without veteran midfielder Ben Olsen, who was scratched just before kickoff because of a strained calf.

Nowak juggled his lineup, moving right back Bryan Namoff into defensive midfield, sliding left back Brandon Prideaux into Namoff's spot and inserting reserve John Wilson onto the left side.

"Chicago didn't do much," Nowak said. "We didn't create as many situations as we normally do, but this is the playoffs and every game is going to be tight. Defensively we were pretty good."

Offensively, they were not. Moreno, the league's second-leading scorer, wasn't much of a factor and playmaker Christian Gomez never established a rhythm.

"If you are on the road, obviously you want to win, but at the same time, you have to manage the game if you know you're not going to get a goal," Namoff said. "It's an advantage for us, especially coming back onto our home field. We're really looking forward to it now."

The drab affair came in sharp contrast to most of the other matches between these teams this season: a pair of 4-3 games and a 3-2 result. The only normal outcome was a 1-1 tie in April at RFK.

"We have the offensive capability to break any game open," forward Santino Quaranta said. "We knew it was going to be tough tonight. Obviously they wanted to win here, and I think it was a moral victory for us, keeping a tie and going to RFK because RFK is tough. It will be a great atmosphere and we will be ready."

United Notes: The club brought 18 players instead of the usual 16 for a road game and was planning to scratch Adu and defender Bobby Boswell. But when it was determined Olsen couldn't play, Boswell was activated. Jamil Walker was United's only substitute, playing the final four minutes. . . .

If the Fire does not advance to the conference final, Friday's match served as the club's farewell to cavernous Soldier Field. Next year the Fire will move into a $70 million, 20,000-seat stadium in the village of Bridgeview, near Midway Airport.

D.C.'s Christian Gomez, right, challenges a stumbling Chris Rolfe during a scoreless match in Chicago.